* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *
Publisher: Pushkin Children’s Books
Release Date: April 6th 2017
Summary (from Goodreads):
In the opulent palace of Ohaddin, women have one purpose – to obey. Some were brought here as girls, captured and enslaved; some as servants; some as wives. All of them must do what the Master tells them, for he wields a deadly and secret power. But the women have powers too. One is a healer. One can control dreams. One is a warrior. One can see everything that is coming. In their golden prison, the women wait. They plan. They write down their stories. They dream of a refuge, a safe place where girls can be free. And, finally, when the moon glows red, they will have their revenge.
This book just blew me away. I really enjoyed Maresi when I read it but this was in another league. I wasn’t sure what to expect in the prequel but this perfectly told the story of the women who founded the Red Abbey.
The book is told from the point of view of each of these women. It starts with Kabira, a young girl who is the guardian to a powerful spring called Anji. When Iskan, the son of the Vizier enters her life, he seduces her and she tells him Anji’s secrets. He uses them to gain power for himself, forces Kabira to marry him and takes control of her life. As he gains more and more power, he enslaves other women and destroys many lives.
The book weaves together the stories each of the women beautifully. Once Kabira’s first section was done I thought I’d struggle to start reading someone else’s story but I quickly became invested in each women’s tale. I loved how they connected to each other, even though their connection was Iskan and the horrible things he did to them. It helped the story cover a large time span without feeling like you were jumping too far forward or missing anything and it was interesting to see the women through each other’s eyes.
I felt most connected to Kabira, probably because she started the story off and I felt she suffered the most at Iskan’s hands. It wasn’t just the rape, but what he did to her family, her children and how he controlled and ruined her entire life. I really felt her pain and grief and sometimes when I was reading it just made me so sad. The other women were all very interesting and different: I particularly liked Estegi and Sulani’s story, especially the revelations at the end (no spoilers!) Orseola’s dreamweaving was fascinating and Iona’ story was really intriguing and sad.
Iskan was an incredible villain. I seriously hated him. He had no redeeming features in my eyes, not after what he did to all of them. He was very well written, his motivations clear and his actions all true to his character. It takes skill to write a character that you can loathe like that: he made my skin crawl whenever he was on the page.
This is a gritty read and it feels weird saying I enjoyed it when I think about all the horrible stuff that happened in it. But it was beautifully written with incredible characters, and while the main part of the book was filled with heartache and tragedy, there was also hope. If you’ve read Maresi then you know what these women go on to create and you get a glimpse of this at the end, though this book is really the story of their lives before they founded the Red Abbey. After all they go through at Iskan’s hands, it’s easy to see why they created a place where men weren’t allowed and women could be taught their worth.
I cannot recommend this book enough, whether you’ve read Maresi or not. If you enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale or Only Ever Yours then you’ll love this. It’s tragic and painful and hopeful and empowering and I just loved it.